Abbreviate 'a language with free word order' to FWOL (eg: 1, 2, 3, 4). I exemplify with Latin.

When trying to read a FWOL, I must firstly consciously determine the lexical categories of each word, before the second step of determining the meaning of each word. Normally, English and French are written as SVO, and so do not pose the first problem, but this problem recurs when reading English or French poetry. For example, in Latin, if the main verb is located at the end of a long sentence, I must then reread the sentence, even thrice, to understand it.

This lingering hindrance of mine induced my question (in the title above). To wit, on the subject of word order, do FWOL require a different cognitive capability or process?
Is unraveling free word order a separate mental skill, which may be subconscious, but which non-FWOL speakers lack and must learn anew?

  • 1
    The question cannot possibly be answered. There is no metric of adroitness or cleverness, so no way to see if it correlates with any linguistic property.
    – user6726
    Aug 11, 2015 at 1:29
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    Asking about intelligence is a bad question. Asking if free word order requires a different cognitive process would be an interesting question. I'd recommend changing it to ask that primarily.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 11, 2015 at 1:39
  • No, it doesn't take more intelligence. It's just a different way of organizing resources and different ways to use them. "Free word order languages", including all the ones discussed in the links provided, always have inflections that tie together constituents and relations between them just as accurately as English word order and movement rules do. English and Chinese are analytic languages, and have no useful inflection, certainly not any tying words together. Grammatical relations like subject and object aren't marked in analytic languages, so strict word order does the job.
    – jlawler
    Aug 11, 2015 at 1:59
  • @curiousdannii Thanks. Better now? I hereby permit you to please edit my OP directly.
    – user5306
    Aug 11, 2015 at 2:01
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    Just bringing my personal experience here. I'm not fluent enough in Latin but I understand German decently enough. When I hear a German sentence with the verb at the end (in subordinate clauses), I can complete the sentence before it finishes.I can guess the last verb(s) - sometimes two of three ot them - and I'm 100% sure this holds true for native German speakers as well. I learned German just a few years after my native French and I remember after each sojourn in Germany I would, to my parents dismay, form my French sentences on the German model, ocasionally throwing all verbs at the end. Aug 11, 2015 at 2:23


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